Why L.A.'s Secret Stair Walks Should Be Your Next Hike

Los Angeles isn't necessarily known for their hikes, but these trails will give you the nature you crave.

Los Angeles is a city that allows a nature lover unprecedented access to the outdoors, even amidst its urban playground atmosphere of world-class music, restaurants, and cocktails. But the next time you're thinking of trekking it through crowded Runyon Canyon, consider taking the stairs instead.

The hidden staircases of Los Angeles are one of the city's best-kept secrets. The steps rise from the city streets and up the bougainville-lined hillsides to seemingly, well, nowhere—a part of L.A.'s history that's now almost impossible to imagine.

The city of Los Angeles—as well-known today for its road rage-inducing as it is for its movie stars—was connected by a vast public transportation system, including trolleys, streetcars, light-rails and buses. From 1901 to 1963, the Red Cars and the Yellow Cars helped Angelenos get around town. No vehicle of your own in the City of Angels? No problem. In the 1920s, the city boasted the world's largest trolley system in the world. Just traipse down the neighborhood stairs from your hillside bungalow to the nearest streetcar stop, and you're on your way.

Today, the Los Angeles's staircases are not only a landmark of how the city once traveled, they're a popular destination for those looking to get outside, climb high into the sunshine, and see the city from another vantage point. And while we can't say for sure, but we think the endorphins from all this climbing might be why L.A. is one of America's Happiest Cities.

Music Box Loop (map)

People and dogs alike love venturing up and down these colorful steps. Instagram @treyj_jrt

705 steps

In the Academy Award-winning 1932 short, "The Music Box," Laurel and Hardy carried a piano up this towering set of stairs in Silverlake. Your task of walking up them with a water bottle is decidedly simpler. Bring a friend in tow, though, and you'll have as many laughs.

Baxter Stairs (map)

230 steps

In Echo Park next door to Elysian Park, you'll find the steepest staircase in Los Angeles. Locals say it's "hard as hell," going up, but reward for the grueling ascent is a stunning view of downtown, Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign.

Murphy Ranch Trail (map)

Murphy Ranch Trail is a workout with beautiful street art along the way. Instagram @ash.wanders

513 steps

These stairs require a short hike on a road lined with graffiti and hollyhock, but the three sets of stairs here create a loop that pass Murphy Ranch. Designed as a hideout for Nazi-sympathizers waiting for the Germans to win WWII, the ranch was instead raided by U.S. authorities and closed in 1941. In the 60s and 70s, the structures became an artists' colony only to be abandoned after a 1978 fire. If you want a hike that's a bit different with a "creepy" but "awesome atmosphere," according to locals, this graffiti-covered stairway is the spot.

Santa Monica Stairs (map)

170 steps & 189 steps

These two staircases can get crowded and a touch competitive. Think shirtless hard bodies and weekend fitness warriors jockeying for position on the ascent. On the plus side, it's also a great spot for people watching and street parking is plentiful and free after 8am.

Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook (map)

282 steps

These rough-hewn steps, also known as the Culver City Stairs, cut through brush and rise from an otherwise industrial neighborhood. But brace yourself for the payoff: the hilltop terrace offers sweeping 360-degree views of LA, including downtown to the east, the glittering Pacific to the west, and the Santa Monica Mountains in the distance.

Pacific Palisades Castellammare (map)

Wanting a view? Castellammare delivers beautiful sweeping views of the Pacific.

518 steps

Charles Fleming, the man who literally wrote the book on LA's secret stairs calls this the most scenic stair walk of all: "This hillside stroll offers sweeping Pacific views, ocean breezes, and grisly Hollywood film lore." That "grisly lore" includes the body of Thelma Todd, known for her roles in Marx Brothers films such as Horse Feathers and Monkey Business, who was found dead in her car here in 1935. The staircases are next to the Getty Villa, the Self-Realization Fellowship, and Topanga Park, making it worthy of a full-day destination.

Mattachine Steps (map)

161 steps

Just south of the Silver Lake Reservoir, the Mattachine Society, one of America's first gay rights organizations, was founded by Harry Hays on this hillside on November 11, 1950. Named after a medieval French secret society that set out to right wrongs, the group accomplished just that; fifteen years later there were more than 80 bars, restaurants, and coffee shops catering to gay clientele in the area, including a dozen along Sunset in Harry Hay's neighborhood. Commemorate Hay's work with a climb on past residential homes, cacti, palms, and sagebrush, that offers, finally, a view of the reservoir.

Micheltorena Stairs (map)

177 steps

The most photogenic of all the stair walks, the painted Micheltorena Stairs are quickly becoming iconic. The rainbow piano key and heart design was is thanks to guerilla artist, Corinne Carrey, who wanted to lift the mood in the area and delight any who found them. Love the idea of painted stairs? Sign up for Painted Stairways Tours, led by Dan Gutierrez.

While dusty hiking trails in Los Angeles will always have a special place in our hearts, these climbs are a stairway to another kind of heaven in the city—one that can still feel secret. Don your biggest sunhat and SPF—your future looks bright up there.

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Travel

What I Learned as an American Living in London During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even subtle cultural differences change how a country handles crisis.

On March 3rd, 2020, I left New York City to go spend three months in London with my longtime partner.

You likely recognize that date as shockingly close to when all hell broke loose around the world thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As I was leaving NYC, there were already stirrings of unease surrounding a mysterious new virus that was making its way from China to the States, but very few people thought it would be anything but a passing inconvenience.

As it turned out, I likely already had the virus when I departed New York. I began running a fever the day I arrived in London. Still, I figured I had probably just caught a cold on the plane (this was before we knew what we know now, that the coronavirus was already extremely prevalent in NYC by March 3rd), and there was no way of knowing for sure, because tests were only available to people in the hospital with COVID symptoms. Soon, my partner also came down with symptoms.

As we recovered (we were both lucky to have relatively mild cases that lasted only a couple of days), we watched London slowly close down around us. First, theaters and public venues began to close, then office workers were told to stay home. Throughout it all, there was a reigning sense of calm and acceptance among the British people, even as the rest of the world began to panic.

BBC.com

The complaints I heard from British friends and acquaintances were never about the lockdown measures, but rather about the conservative government's hesitance to take more drastic steps and the lack of clarity surrounding what they expected the population to do to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, I was struck by the difference in tone that I saw on my social media from American friends discussing the pandemic and the calm acceptance of the British people around me. Every post by an American discussing the pandemic used the word "I" over and over again and had a generally panicky tone. Meanwhile, the British were speaking with "we" and jokingly mourning their inability to grab a pint and watch football.

Sure, this composure was not true of every single citizen in the UK, just as panic was not every American's reaction, but there was a distinct difference in the responses I personally saw. In general, people who lived in London seemed quick to ask how they could help each other and their country, while many Americans seemed ready to batten down the hatches and take on an "every man for himself" attitude.

I was struck by this sign I saw outside a local corner shop in London:

Image of sign asking if anyone needs anything during COVID-19

Everywhere in London I saw examples of collectivism. While images were coming out of America of totally bare supermarket shelves thanks to people hoarding food and supplies to ensure their own comfort and safety, in London I watched two older women argue over who should take the last packet of chicken thighs. Both women insisted the other should have it.

Now that I'm back in the US, I haven't seen a thing like that in my local grocery stores, and while I know mutual aid networks are flourishing and neighbors are assisting each other in cities around the US, I've still been struck by our general lack of visible camaraderie.

It's no secret that the British government handled the COVID-19 crisis relatively poorly, but I was still struck by a sense of hard-fought unity I felt I shared with every average Londoner.

The British aren't an overly expressive people, but they're extraordinarily cordial. We Americans usually think of this kind of British decorum as a stuffy relic of the past that's only relevant in the event of an afternoon tea at Harrods, and perhaps that's partly true, but COVID-19 showed me just how deep this cordiality goes.

British decorum is not a form of politeness that's just about saying "Please" and "Thank you" or moving out of someone's way on the sidewalk; it's the kind of regard for your fellow man that makes it second nature to wait patiently in line if that makes a supermarket safer. It's an innate sense of obligation to each other that makes wearing a mask on public transportation an obvious and inarguably appropriate step to take during a deadly pandemic.

Sure, Brexit proves that nationalism is just as alive and well in England as it is in America, and in many ways Boris Johnson is a slightly less terrifying version of Donald Trump. But my time in Britain showed me that nothing can rid the British people of their ability to weather a storm as a united people, while I can't say the same of America.

On March 20th, Boris made the historic decision to close the pubs in the UK. For context, even during WWII, when London was being regularly bombed by the Germans, the pubs mostly remained open. This was the only time during my stay in London that I saw a collective outpouring of emotion.

I walked to my local pub out of curiosity that night (I had been two weeks without symptoms and told I was fine to leave the house), knowing that it would be closed indefinitely first thing the next morning. What I found was a sensibly socially distanced crowd of people laughing and singing and drinking together to mark the unthinkable day when the pubs would shut. Everyone was fast friends with their neighbor, and even the drunkest among us kept their distance and used hand sanitizer often. But there was a feeling of unity in the pub that night that I have never experienced in America. A sense that, as a people, Londoners would get through this by looking after one another in ways their government had nothing to do with.

Londoners survive; that's what they do. But the part of "keeping calm and carrying on" that doesn't fit as neatly on a poster is the additional impetus to help one's neighbors in big and small ways.

As we're forced to reckon with the failings of the American government during this time of political, social, and economic turmoil, I wonder if we should not also be looking at the pervasive sense of individualism that's so innate to our culture. I'm not even sure I fully recognized it until it became starkly obvious to me in contrast to a different culture.

Yes, the American government failed us in the way it handled the COVID-19 outbreak, but shouldn't we also interrogate our personal inability to care for each other without strict mandate from the government? Shouldn't we consider that true change can't come to America until we start taking personal responsibility for each other? Yes, we need to deconstruct the systems of oppression inherent in the American government that allow for widespread injustice. But we also need to ask ourselves everyday if we're asking the government to do the work that we aren't doing ourselves.

In the wise words of people who have been doing mutual aid work for generations: We keep us safe. It's time we take a page from Londoners' book and consider that politeness isn't just nice; it can also be an act of radical resistance.

Travel

The Ugly Side of Glamping in New York City

Is it really possible to blend camping with luxury?

When the world is looking bleak—e.g. Every morning, after you check the news—it can feel great to "get away from it all."

An ordinary vacation to a hotel, a resort, or a rental house is fine, but it's not exactly an escape from society. Apart from the proximity of strangers, cramping your style and potentially infecting you with a deadly virus, it makes it slightly harder to pretend that the world has disappeared when you're surrounded by buildings and have a TV constantly threatening to remind you of current events.

It's no wonder, then, that camping has seen a huge resurgence in recent months. People want to be out in nature, in the open air, away from everything. You can bring all your own equipment, never have to worry about social distancing, and can ignore the state of the world for a weekend. That is, if you're up for roughing it.

Not everyone is built to set up tents, sleep on the ground, go days without showering, and eat nothing but s'mores and hotdogs. Some of us are a little too pampered to really enjoy the full camping experience. That's where glamping comes in.

There are some different approaches to the glamping scene. You could rent a deluxe, modern cabin from a company like Getaway, or you could stay in a luxury tent at a glamping resort. In either where you don't really have to worry about what you're going to eat, how you're going to stay clean, or how to assemble the overly-complicated camping gear. All you have to do is enjoy some fresh air in the great outdoors. Everything else is taken care of.

Glamping view

It sounds like the best of both worlds, and that's what my wife and I were hoping to find on a recent glamping trip in New York City. With rates starting around $400 a night, we had access to a spacious, climate-controlled canvas tent with electrical outlets and a plush bed; nearby bathrooms with rainfall showers; free wifi; a gourmet, open-air restaurant; and evening campfires with provided s'mores kit.

There was nothing to set up and nothing to worry about, and it was all in a beautiful natural setting with sunset views of the New York Harbor, the Manhattan skyline, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty. It was halfway between a resort and a campground, and it seemed at first like the best of both worlds—a civilized escape from civilization. But that's not the full picture.

Anyone who cares to find the glamping retreat in question should have no problem tracking it down—there aren't a lot of glamping spots in NYC—but this is not a review of a single company. This is about the whole luxury-tent experience.

I should note that my wife and I have done similar vacations twice before. Once we rented a large yurt for a family getaway, and another time we stayed at a friend's property where he had a permanent canvas tent set up.

Neither of those trips were nearly as heavy on the "glam" half of glamping, but they provided nice, large spaces with wood floors and real beds, and indoor plumbing was not far away.

They also suffered from some of the same flaws.

This latest trip—with wifi, gourmet dining, and so-on—was definitely fancier, and before getting into the negatives, it's worth noting what a pleasant stay we had over all. Everything we ate was delicious, and the public areas of the restaurant and around three large fire pits provided plenty of social distancing.

glamping sunset

The price of our stay included a breakfast basket—smoked salmon, pastries, cheese, and orange juice—delivered to our tent. We ate our fill while admiring the stunning view from the front of our tent—arranged to be uninterrupted by any neighbors. It was easy to imagine we were looking at Manhattan from some private haven that civilization could never reach.

It was admittedly lovely. But while it did bring together some of the best aspects of luxury resorts and rustic camping, it also combined some of the worst.

Let's start with the noise. If you're expecting to get a good night's sleep because you're in a warm, comfy bed, you'd better have a high tolerance for noise. Not only do the walls of a canvas tent flap loudly in the wind, they provide little barrier from the sounds of people passing on nearby gravel paths and of night birds swooping and sounding shrill calls overhead.

Speaking of wildlife, it is very hard to fully seal off a large tent on a wooden platform in the middle of a field. In all three of the glamping shelters we have stayed in, a stray bug or two have managed to find their way inside. In two out of three—including this trip—we've also encountered rodents.

Fortunately—given New York City's reputation—the rodent that broke into our tent over the weekend was an ordinary field mouse, rather than a giant subway rat. My wife heard it scrambling after we had turned off our bedside lamps, and she caught it in the flashlight from her phone as it was sneaking toward a container of dinner leftovers. It darted back through the gap where it had broken in.

After that, we moved our food into a provided Yeti cooler and managed to get some sleep with the help of the tent's bluetooth speaker—hopefully without irritating any neighbors. While we didn't sleep as well as we would have at home, we don't mind camping, so none of this was bad enough to really bother us. But it did seem like the kind of thing that someone expecting a resort experience might not be ready for.

Glamping tent

The larger issue, from my perspective, was the so-called climate control. The night we spent in our tent was chilly, and we were grateful for the electric heating pads keeping our bed warm beneath the comforter, but that wasn't the only provision against the cold. The tent had a dual-function space heater/AC that we didn't even realize was on and running until late that night.

It may have made the air inside marginally warmer, but the tent had a high roof with a sizable gap at the peak where most of that heat probably escaped. Even if the canvas had been perfectly sealed to the outside air, it would have taken a ton of energy to warm up such a large, uninsulated space. The same goes for running it as an AC on a hot night.

We were really just pumping heat into the surrounding area. Any sense that we were communing with nature was undermined by the realization that we were basically assaulting the environment with this massive, virtually pointless waste of energy.

Really, the whole idea of a climate-controlled tent—especially with such a large space—is somewhat ridiculous. It promotes the idea that you can have every modern comfort while being out in nature. But that's just a sales pitch—it's not the reality.

As nice as it sounds to combine the best of a resort vacation with the best of a camping trip, the two just don't mix that easily. Comfort and luxury that are easy to provide in a hotel room become extravagant and silly in a canvas tent, while the kind of noise and wildlife that are expected on a camping trip suddenly seem intrusive in a resort setting.

While there is a pleasant niche for this style of glamping—particularly when it includes spectacular city views—for people who love the pampered luxury of a resort or the natural simplicity of camping, glamping in a luxury tents lands in an awkward middle ground that doesn't quite scratch either itch.

Tiny home glamping view

The good news is, if you want that view, but can't handle the downsides of sleeping in a tent, the same retreat offers tiny homes that provide the same luxury without the compromise of canvas walls. Because if you're not prepared for at least some of the discomfort of camping, you're better off just renting a cabin.

I like to think I have a good diet, everything in moderation, and balance is key. I always make an effort to add extra veg to my dinners to bulk up on all those essential vitamins and minerals. That's why I'd never bothered with taking vitamin supplements. Except for those orange powder packets I grab in desperation when I'm already stuffed up and sneezing - they never work for me anyway.

Last year for the first time I got 3 colds. Once fall hit I was feeling pretty run down. My sister, Margot, had the same problem. But she's gotten ahead of it this year and is already taking her vitamins. She knows I think they're all over-processed capsules with no legitimate ingredients.

"I'm taking Paleovalley's Essential C Complex. You're going to love them", Margot told me. "They use all organic, natural ingredients, just like you." I really didn't believe in supplements and was convinced I could get everything I needed from my healthy diet.

But, this fall I'll need something to boost my immune system and keep me strong through the winter. I really didn't need a repeat of last year. So I took Margot's word for it and decided to give Paleovalley a look, just to see what they say.

Straight off the bat, I love it that they're GMO-free and use whole, organic ingredients, no synthetic ingredients, or fillers. Although they have many products to help boost your health, I focused on their Vitamin C Complex. Two capsules have 450mg of Vitamin C which is 750% of the recommended daily amount. This made me wonder how many mgs I was actually getting through my food. Perhaps I wasn't hitting my daily recommended dosage?

When I checked out the ingredients I was delighted there was no synthetic ascorbic acid - found in generic Vitamin C supplements that only deliver a fraction of the vitamin. I'll admit that I'd never heard of the organic wholefood ingredients Acerola Cherry, Camu Camu Berry, and Amla Berry that Paleovalley uses, but they sounded amazing so I was excited to try it.

Turns out, unripe Acerola Cherry is the most potent source of Vitamin C on the planet. Their Vitamin C content is 120 times higher than that in oranges. Crazy! Rich in Vitamin C, Camu Camu Berry aids your skin, gums, eyes, and immune system. It's even been shown to deliver mood-boosting properties - something that could be quite helpful in the colder darker months. Amla Berry has been used for thousands of years in herbal medicine to help support heart and brain function through its ability to detoxify the body and increase circulation.

Maybe my sister's onto something with Paleovalley.

The next week I was still thinking about Paleovalley. I just had to try their Essential C Complex for myself. The cost of 30 capsules starts at $23.99, which is $0.80 per serving if you buy in bulk or subscribe so it was really good value.

A few days later, it was delivered right to my door and I was taking it every morning. So simple, it has no taste or smell and is easy to swallow. To be honest, I felt no real change the first few weeks. But then about a month in I noticed a lift in my energy levels. Normally, at the end of summer, I'm wrecked and need to hibernate. But this year, I feel like I can take on anything.

My body's healthier and the effects of the pending winter haven't hit me. I've armed my body with what it needs to keep me at my best every day.

I feel great knowing I have my Paleovalley Vitamin C Complex to boost my immune system and my overall health.

Update: Our friends at Paleovalley are offering a special offer to our reader! Follow this link for an exclusive offer.